My New Favorite Vacation Watch — A Vintage Watch Collector’s Modern Seamaster
Today, Fratello reader John Cote from the United States shares the story of his new favorite vacation watch, the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra. Though he often exclusively wears vintage chronographs, he needed something different for his travels in Greece. He needed a watch that could take a beating, wouldn’t make him a target for robbers, and that kept proper time. Without further ado…
I have been a very frequent business traveler and vintage watch wearer for most of my adult life, but picking a vacation travel watch has always seemed a difficult proposition. Vacation travel is different. It may involve crossing time zones, just like business travel, but it often involves adventure and exposure to the vagaries of nature that business travel does not. It can involve going places where obviously nice, blingy watches elicit the attention of a criminal element rather than admiring stares in a board room.
Before I delve into my difficult choice, you should know that I am a very passionate and prolific watch collector but a collector, almost exclusively, of vintage watches. That said, I do have a few modern watches in my collection. For me, that means watches made in the last 10-20 years, and I do tend to lean toward those when making this choice. Generally speaking, my modern watches are more robust, and, quite frankly, I probably value them less or at least have much less of an emotional attachment to them. I do wear quite a few of the vintage watches — mostly chronographs from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s — for business travel. However, they are too prone to value-decreasing scratches and dings or worse when worn on vacation.
Setting the criteria for a vacation watch
So, what are my criteria for a travel watch?
- A look that is soul-satisfying to me (a criterion for any watch)
- Ease of timezone/hour or GMT adjustment
- A clearly visible date function that is easy to set
- Some degree of accuracy in timekeeping
And what criteria might I add for a vacation-travel watch?
- A less flashy look, making it less attractive to thieves
- A watch that is not a bother and that requires little thought
- Robustness/water resistance
- A bracelet as opposed to a strap for sweat/water resistance and an outdoor feel
Well, let’s get to it. I just got back from an almost two-week trip to Greece, and I am writing this because the watch I chose is now my official vacation travel watch. This watch — the 41.5mm Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Co-Axial Chronometer reference 188.8.131.52.06.001 — seems to have been discontinued for a new version in around 2018 and doesn’t seem to get much love in today’s market. Most watch buyers seem to like the sportier/flashier-looking Seamaster dive watches with rotating bezels.
The gray “teak deck” dial of the Seamaster Aqua Terra
My Aqua Terra has a gray dial and is on a well-built, robust, and nicely finished factory bracelet. To me, the dial — which resembles the teak deck of a yacht — and the hands have a very satisfying look. The dial changes hues in different lighting, and to me, this is a very pleasing effect.
Typically, I prefer single-hinge clasps to this double-hinge/hidden clasp. This bracelet, however, is very comfortable, robust, and secure, and it didn’t take me long to get used to the function of the clasp. To me, this watch is sort of half dressy and half sporty, resulting in a very versatile look.
It survived a few knocks
The watch survived my knocking about in little island cars and aboard ferries and sport boats. It took dives in the salty Aegean and numerous cleanings with warm, fresh water and soap without a single burp or hiccup. The Co-Axial caliber 8500 with its beautiful Arabesque Côtes de Genève decoration can be seen through a sapphire glass view back and is remarkably accurate. It gained a total of five seconds over the first 10 days of the trip. After that, I just quit paying attention. This accuracy seems almost too good to be true for any mechanical watch.
Quickset date versus an independent hour hand
Let me get to the functional aspect of the watch that most reviewers seem to like least. That is the lack of a quickset date. This watch has a screw-down, water-resistant crown with two setting positions. Pulled all the way out, the crown sets the time and hacks the watch, which means the seconds hand stops running and is locked in place. This allows the wearer to easily sync the watch with a reference time, such as an atomic clock. When pulled halfway out, the crown simply and quickly moves the hour hand either forward or backward without the hack. Functionally, this is a time-zone adjustor, but it also works as a not-so-quick date adjustment. The best way to semi-quickly adjust the date is to advance the hour hand forward until the date is correct.
This has been a deal-breaker for some reviewers, but to me, it is a welcome and very functional travel compromise. As a vintage collector, I am used to watches that have much more tedious date-setting functions. For me, the fact that I can quickly and easily adjust the time zone by moving the hour hand is an asset that far outweighs the slightly slower date setting.
In short, I love the stylish but not blingy, versatile look of my Seamaster Aqua Terra. I love the accuracy, I love the travel functionality, and I love the knock-about robustness. I think this will be my new favorite vacation watch, and as a mostly retired old dude, I plan on wearing it on a lot of vacations.